Holy Week: Thursday
Luke 22:19-2019 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
As I described on Tuesday, it is obvious throughout the Holy Week readings that Jesus knows His time is short. This is certainly true about the Passover meal that has come to be known as the Last Supper. Jesus tells us explicitly in Luke 22:15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Why is He so eager to share this meal with His followers? I have no doubt that there was much He wanted to teach them, and we will discuss that, but I think Jesus wanted one more chance to talk, eat, and enjoy time with His closest friends before everything changed, as it would later that night.
Jesus and His followers (the gospels do not say only the disciples were there, it is very likely there were others present) gathered in a room prepared for them to share the Seder, the traditional Jewish meal which remembered and celebrated the Passover from Exodus 12. Despite the traditional images of the Last Supper from Da Vinci and others, Jesus and His friends were not seated in chairs around a table.
The Seder meal would have been served on a three-sided table called a “triclinium,” and the attendees would have reclined (Luke 22:14, John 13:23) on their side on pillows and eaten with their free hand.
To introduce His teaching about the New Covenant that will be established by His sacrifice the next day, Jesus selects two important parts of the Seder meal: the unleavened bread (matzah) and the wine (yayin). The breaking of the bread, called _yachatz_, was already a part of the traditional Seder meal, but at this meal Jesus adds His own words and significance: the broken bread represents His body, which will be broken for His followers on the cross.
A traditional Seder meal also has the participants consume four glasses of wine (Luke 22:17 and 20 make reference to multiple “cups”) over the course of the meal, during one of which (probably the third cup) Jesus again adds a new significance to it: the red wine of the meal will represent His blood which will flow freely in the day to come.
As when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey just a few days before, I feel that the humility and servanthood of Jesus is on full display at this event. In the midst of a discussion among the disciples about who was greatest (Luke 22:24), something the disciples fought about repeatedly, it is Jesus who demonstrates what constitutes greatness in the kingdom of God. Jesus removes His outer garments, pours a basin of water, and begins to wash the feet of his friends (John 13:1-17), a task normally reserved for a slave. Even in the provision of the elements of Communion, we see Jesus as the servant of the group. Surely it brought joy to Jesus’ heart to be able to serve His closest followers this way.
At the heart of Holy Week we see the great love that Jesus has for us all. It is this great love that causes Him to wash His followers feet, share the bread and wine, and to be willing to walk the road of suffering that will lead to Calvary. Just as His followers then, we deserve none of these things. But praise God that Jesus was willing to overlook the unworthiness of His followers (then and now), and take the form of a slave in order to set us free.